ICT4DD In Action: Caribbean Telecommunications Union

Welcome to the final post of my 3 part mini series “ICT4DD in Action”. In the first two posts, we explored some examples of how ICTs are impacting the lives of people living with disabilities in Ghana and in Cambodia. In both of these examples, I focused on the use of ICTs by NGOs, so for a little change of pace in this final article I will be focusing on the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.

Very little has been written on disability in the Caribbean, and even less statistical data can be found. So I found myself at a loss in drawing any conclusions on overall trends of disability in the region. Some countries do seem to have legislation mandating access for the disabled to public buildings and transportation, though there is very little information available on programmes targeting the disabled. I also found very few organizations that focussed on helping persons with disabilities. It seems to me that persons with disabilities in the Caribbean have historically been quite invisible. This does seem to be changing however, alongside a global trend of recognizing this historically invisible minority group. The Caribbean Telecommunications Union has been active in raising awareness and creating accessible solutions for those living with disabilities.

The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) is an inter-governmental organization dedicated to supporting the development of the Information and Communications Technologies sector across the region. The CTU states that it aims to advance the ICT sector as a driver towards the goal of national and regional development through the following methods:

  • Proactive and responsive ICT policy development
  • Capacity-building through education and skills training
  • Project coordination at the regional level
  • Representation of the region’s ICT views on the international level

The CTU is committed to ICT development that reaches the citizens of the region, creating affordable access to ICT and helping citizens to use ICT effectively to transform their lives.

The CTU’s State Members include the following 20 countries:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • The Bahamas
  • Belize
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Cuba
  • The Commonwealth of Dominica
  • Grenada
  • The Cooperative Republic of Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Montserrat
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • St Martin
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Suriname
  • Turks and Caicos
  • Trinidad and Tobago

In addition to the above mentioned State Members, the CTU has an array of Non-State Members including private sector and civil society organizations.

In 2013, the CTU began the “ICT for Persons with Disabilities initiative”, stating that they believed that ICTs can enrich the lives of those living with disabilities. The CTU’s efforts began in June of 2013 with attendance at the Washington-based Mobile Enabling Summit, the leading global conference and showcase covering the fast-moving technology innovations that enable seniors and persons with disabilities to access digital content and services in new ways. Following this, the CTU began holding ICTs for Persons with Disabilities Workshops regionally across various Caribbean locations.

ICT for Persons with Disabilities workshops are conducted in CTU member states at schools and organizations catering to persons with disabilities. Facilitators, one deaf and one blind, demonstrate the available technology and attendees are invited to engage with the devices in a hands-on manner.

Below is a CTU representative speaking about their use of ICTs to enable the disabled.

A pilot project, the Caribbean Video Assistance Service (CVAS) is a collaborative partnership between the CTU and VTCSecure, The service is delivered via an individual’s smart phone, computer or wireless device, connected to the internet.

Check out this video to see CVAS is action!

The key point is that they are using a technological platform to facilitate communication without the use of expensive equipment. Users can use their existing smart phone, computer, or wireless device by simply downloading an app. Owning such a device in the Caribbean is becoming increasingly common place, alongside and internet connectivity, which is making this project feasible. The app offers solutions for the following 5 scenarios:

 Deaf to Deaf­ ‐ two users communicate using sign language

Deaf to hearing/hearing to Deaf via an interpreter– users communicate with an agent, who connects them to a third party using a regular landline or cell phone- or visa-versa

Video assistance service for people, who are blind– a person with vision disability can use the app to contact an agent for assistance

Hearing to Deaf without interpreter– The hearing user speaks normally and the voice is converted to text in real-time. The receiver can then respond in text or by voice

CTU Consultant, Mr. Trevor Prevatt, and Promotions and Publications Specialist, Ms. Sonja Johnson, appeared on the CCN TV6 Morning Edition programme to promote the Caribbean Video Assistance Service. This talk really zones in on how new this type of technology is in the region, in contrast to more developed countries.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PRw-vIXowQ[/youtube]

While this technology seems great in principle, there are still some big challenges to face. The first is that CTU has yet to secure long-term sustainable funding for this project- despite several calls for a collaborative effort from all member states. The other big issue will be for those living in remote villages without access to reliable internet. It is these people that are most isolated from services, and therefore are arguably the most in need of assistive technologies.

I look forward to following CTUs progress with this project, and can only hope that the challenges can be overcome.

written by RD